Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Sorakuen Garden is the only traditional Japanese landscape garden among the city parks of Kōbe. Constructed at the end of Meiji era, it was originally a private residence of the father of former Kōbe mayor Kenkichi Kodera, and was later donated to the city in 1941. This past weekend was an annual evening viewing event at the garden, where candles are placed throughout the grounds and all the buildings are cast with lights, so visitors might enjoy the sites in the cooler evening hours. One of the most impresive buildings in the garden is the Kawagozabune, seen here in the foreground. Originally it was part of a houseboat used for cruises by a feudal lord of Himeji. It’s thought to have been constructed in the late 1600’s. All sections have been treated with lacquer. The ends of the beams and rafters are decorated with gold leaf. It is also the last “kawagozabune” in existence.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Little Shade in Kanazawa

This is the shady side street that I mentioned in the last post, outside Kenroku-en. These are tables that you can sit down on (shoes off) and enjoy some treats purchased from the local vendors, I suggest the green tea and vanilla soft-cream mix to help overcome the stifling summer heat.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Umeboshi 梅干

After a few hot hours inside Kenroku-en a retreat to the shaded side-steets just outside the garden gates offers up some tasty food shops, were I spied these drying umeboshi, alongside some vendors selling souvenir and local wears. Umeboshi, literally dried ume, are pickled ume fruits common in Japan. Ume (Prunus Mume) is a species of fruit-bearing tree in the genus Prunus, which is often called a plum but is actually more closely related to the apricot. Umeboshi are a popular kind of tsukemono (pickles) and are extremely sour and salty, Yum!

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Kenroku-en contains roughly 8,750 trees, and 183 species of plants in total. Among the garden's points of special interest, these are the ones I found most impressive:
  • The oldest fountain in Japan, operating by natural water pressure.
  • Yūgao-tei, a teahouse, the oldest building in the garden, built 1774
  • Karasaki Pine, planted from seed by the 13th lord Nariyasu from Karasaki.
  • Flying Geese Bridge (Gankō-bashi), made of eleven red stones, laid out to resemble geese in a flying formation
  • Kotoji-tōrō, (pictured) a stone lantern with two legs, said to resemble the bridge on a koto.
The koto 箏 is a traditional Japanese stringed musical instrument, and is the national instrument of Japan. The Kotoji-tōrō is emblematic of Kenroku-en and Kanazawa and you are likely to see many photographers gathered around this area of the garden.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Kenroku-en 兼六園

Kenroku-en, or Six Attributes Garden, located in Kanazawa, is a celebrated formerly private garden; that along with Kairaku-en and Koraku-en, is considered one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan. The garden is located outside the gates of Kanazawa Castle where it originally formed the outer garden, and covers over 25 acres. The gardens name references the six attributes of a perfect landscape garden: spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, waterways, and panoramas, as recorded in the "Chronicles of the Famous Luoyang Gardens," a book by the Chinese poet Li Gefei.

Pictured is the Emerald (Midori) Waterfall and a caretaker keeping the garden "natural." One aspect I find interesting about Japanese landscape gardens, are how painstakingly they are kept clean and orderly to represent a "natural" world that is actually messy and disordered, especially by the standards set forth by Li Gefei. To see what i mean, just go for a hike anywhere human hands don't have a heavy influence. While containing its own "natural" beauty, the wilderness is not the meticulously manicured world of the Japanese landscape garden. Better yet, try to make your own landscape garden, even a very very small one, and see how long it looks orderly when left to its own devices. Not long I would wager.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Kanazawa Castle 金沢城

Kanazawa has a large, recently -restored castle near the city center. The Hishi Yagura turret, Gojikken Nagaya warehouse, and Hashizume-mon Tsuzuki Yagura turret were faithfully restored in 2001 to their 1809 form, using traditional construction methods. The castle's distinctive, whitish roof tiles are cast lead which is both fire resistant and, as local legend state, also serves as a source of bullets in times of siege; the tiles could be melted down and re-cast into bullets.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Time to Get Wet

While, in general, digital clocks may be more common compared to their analogue cousins - this one is a delightful liquid variation. This clock displays the liquid like flow of time using controlled fountains of water. This clock is located in full public view just outside the impressive gate to the Kamazawa JR train station. Also, it is more than just a clock - the adjustable valving that forms the clock's numeric digits is also used to spell out text messages in both Japanese and English (as in the photograph).

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Kanazawa Station 金沢駅

On the return trip from Yuzawa made a side trip to the capital city of Ishikawa Prefecture, Kanazawa. Kanazawa is a pleasant city of about a half-million situated on the coast of the Sea of Japan. Known in times past for its exquisite decorative artwork featuring precisely worked gold leaf. This is the JR (Japan Rail) station in Kanazawa and it is the biggest station in Ishikawa Prefecture. A huge glass dome and wooden gate greet people at the main entrance. The dome is made from 3,000 panes of glass and the wooden gate is inspired by a traditional Tsuzumi (Drum).

Monday, August 23, 2010


Sasa-dango, bamboo leaf-wrapped rice cakes, is a traditional Niigata sweet for the boy's festival on May 5, but because of its popularity and identity as a specialty of this area, is available most of the year. The history of this confection stems from a story of a general of Echigo, named Uesugi Yoshinobu, who was said to carry the sweet as a supplemental food on long journeys. Sasa-dango is made from glutinous rice that is steamed and pounded into mochi (rice cake) then spiced with mugwort. The mochi is wrapped around bean jam, and both are wrapped and tied with sasa bamboo leaves. The delicious little package is then steamed, which leaves a hint of the taste of the bamboo inside the mochi. Absolutely delicious and they have one of the most environmentally friendly and pleasing packages that I have ever seen - like little gifts.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Insects of Mt. Omine

Encountered some interesting insects trekking around Mt. Omine. First is a colorful little butterfly known as a Araschnia burejana, or Sakahachi-cho in Japanese, this species occurs in the eastern part of Asia. "Sakahachi" indicates the upside-down shape of the Chinese (kanji) character for "eight" (八) while "Cho" means butterfly. Next is a Trithemis kirbyi, or the Orange-winged Dropwing, a species of dragonfly in family Libellulidae. Finally, this woolly bear is a moth caterpillar known as "The Laugher", Charadra deridens, a member of the Noctuidae family. The fellow was not all that humorous to me, perhaps I missed the joke?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sake Gelato

I passed a rather humorous sign on my hike in 'Alp No Sato,' it had a picture of a cow (a bull really which is confusing) with a (+) sign next to a bottle that is labeled sake, then an (=) sign and a silhouette of an ice cream cone. As it turned out a shop on the trail experiments with various flavors of gelato, and Sake is one of the seasonal flavors. Having already tried chocolate beer I felt it was only fair to try sake gelato, pictured on top of this cone with peach sorbet. It was actually quite delicious and had a very distinct-sharp but sweet sake flavor that really worked well contrasted against this slightly sour peach (momo) sorbet. It might have been slightly strong on its own, but paired with another handmade frozen flavor it was just right.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Yuzawa "Alp No Sato"

The 'Alp no Sato' (Alpine Flower Garden) is a botanical garden on the north slope of Mt. Omine reached via one of the largest ropeways in the world, the Yuzawa Kogen Ropeway, which holds a massive 166 people. After a 7 minute ascent, you are transported to the 1,300m attitude mountain peak station, with its panoramic views of the Yuzawa area. Located at the summit is the Yuzawa Kogen 'Alp No Sato' botanical park which contains over 1,000 different types of alpine plant species.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Yuzawa Water

Near the waterfall is a small shrine and this stone basin capturing the water from a natural spring. The water is also blessed by the local priests, making this hiking trail a pilgrimage location for those seeking purification by these special waters. Water is important to Yuzawa, for its use as snow, rain, onsen, sake, and beer. Yuzawa high street, the main street in town, also has a number of natural hot-spring, that have been turned into foot baths that can be used free of charge. It's great to sit back, soak your feet and watch the world go by, even in the scorching summer heat.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Yuzawa 湯沢町 Waterfall

Yuzawa is an onsen (hot spring) town located in the mountains of Niigata Prefecture. There are a large number of ski resorts in the area, and the town's economy is reliant principally on skiing and snowboarding. For those interested in Japanese literature, Yasunari Kawabata's classic novel Snow Country takes place in Yuzawa. Clearly it is not ski season however, the town still has plenty of natural alpine beauty and many hiking trails that take advantage of the lush green summer landscape. Pictured is a waterfall at the base of Mt. Omine, a short hike from the center of town.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Naniwa Yodogawa Yatai

No festival in Japan, including fireworks, is complete without some tasty eats to enjoy along with the festivities. The line of Yatai, or temporary food stalls, at the Naniwa Yodogawa Fireworks Festival was impressive and though many of the Yatai offerings were similar, the sheer number of them made for an entertaining walk along the river shoulder-to-shoulder with the masses of people. The döner kebab was meaty goodness, the cheese chikuwa (nori flavor, also available in curry) was salty-fried heaven on a stick, the inexpensive tamago sembe is always a crunchy treat, and the mango magic snow was a cool, flavorful desert with a wonderful texture that no other icy confection can match.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Naniwa Yodogawa なにわ淀川花火大会

It is the fireworks festival season in Japan, and one of the biggest fireworks festivals in the Kansai region is in Ōsaka, the Naniwa Yodogawa Fireworks Festival. This festival has been held along the Shin-Yodogawa River since 1989, and despite its massive size, the festival is hosted almost entirely by the local residents and businesses of the Juso neighborhood. Attendance each year is approximately 500,000 people, and the fireworks display is impressive. The fireworks started launching at 8 pm and the show lasted slightly over an hour. If you plan to attend next year I suggest bringing your tarp and staking out a place along the river in the late afternoon if you want any chance of sitting, as it is very crowded. Many people dress up in yukata and have picnics beforehand, making it an all-day event.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Fuji Rock: HIghlights

The Japanese audience love music and love to party, and they love to do it in a safe, clean and inclusive manner. That is part of what makes the Fuji Rock festival special. Final highlight was the wet but wonderful Belle & Sebastian show at the white stage.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fuji Rock: All Night

The Palace of Wonder area is a bizarre place near the festival entrance where you can have some all-night fun. Dance, play, have some cocktails and watch the Human Cannonball and Wheels of Death. Check out some up-and-coming bands on the Rookie A Go-Go stage. I suppose no festival is complete without its own circus sideshow.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Fuji Rock: Bugs

"Tents, Bugs and Rock & Roll is the apropos name chosen for a British produced video chronicle of the 1st 10 years of the Fuji Rock festival, and as you can see insects do join in the festivities. These fellows, as well as most other insects are fine but be aware of the vampire variety, as they grow big and hungry in these woods - bug repellent is a must. Here is a list of other helpful and necessary items if you choose to attend in the future.
  • Hat, to avoid sunburn, heat, and rain.
  • Raincoat, a proper one for camping & hiking, as no umbrellas are allowed in the festival site and the really cheep ones will just get soaked through.
  • Towel, to put around your neck to protect against the sun and or as shade, to dry, cool, or clean.
  • Tarp or bag for sitting on, many bring foldable chairs.
  • Sunscreen, I saw enough lobster-red colored folks after day-three to convince me that this is a must bring, consequently they were all foreigners.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fuji Rock: Fashion

The weather in Naeba is cooler then most of Japan at this time of year, which offers a welcome change for the heat scorched masses. However, the days can still be rather hot and sunny, when it is not raining and it will rain, guaranteed. Oh and with the rain comes mud and lots of it. So for most festival goers, there is standard uniform of rubber boots, t-shirt, rain jacket, fisherman’s hat, side bag for tarps, bug repellent, sun screen, and other essentials, and almost always a towel (towels are a really big deal in Japan at this time of year). Most go this route, however some dress to impress, or dress like complete freaks - see gold suited-flag waving guy a few posts back to see what I mean. This is the green stage manned at this time by the Boom Boom Satellites who put on an epic show.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fuji Rock: Landscape & Gonchan

As I mentioned in the previous post, some stages are quite spread apart, connected by paths such as you see here. The hub of the site is called Oasis where more than 30 food stalls from around the world gather. The main site closes each night after the final act, but Oasis continues to stay open until late at night, as well as the Red Marquee where an all-night dance party continues until 5am. The fellows seated near the river, gazing out from between the Buddhist prayer flags are named Gon-chan and apparently they migrate to Fuji Rock every year.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fuji Rock: Stages

The Fuji Rock Festival has seven main stages and other minor stages scattered throughout the site. The Green stage is the main stage and it has a capacity for almost 50,000 spectators (shown bottom). Other stages include the White Stage (shown 2nd), the Red Marquee (shown 3rd w/ Codine Velvet Club), Orange Court, and Field of Heaven (shown top). The walks between some of the stages can be long, and some of the trails can be hilly, but the walks are beautiful, often taking you through forests and over sparkling streams.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fuji Rock: Travel & Crowds

Naeba is accessible by the Joetsu Shinkansen (bullet train) for Tokyo station if you have that kinda cash, but if you are like me and the wallet is thin, then the Seishun Juhachi Kippu might be just the, uh. . . ticket. Literally a youth 18 ticket, but one that has no actual age restrictions on its use. It is perhaps the most interesting and certainly the best value way to travel on Japan's extensive rail network. For 11,500 yen (about 120 USD) you get a ticket entitling you to 5 days of unlimited travel on all Japan Rail services including night trains but excluding limited express and Shinkansen services. That's five separate 24-hour periods of travel on all local trains throughout Japan no booking required. Also the ticket is not tied to a specific person, so on one ticket, one person can travel for five days, or 5 people can travel for 1 day, anyway you want to do the math. Now the downside, this is not the way to travel quickly. Scenic and adventurous yes, fast no; it took over 10 hours to get from Kōbe to the campsite in Naeba.

The crowds at the concert were friendly, international, and colorful and the fresh cooler air and vast forest backdrops of the Japanese alps helped to keep spirits light. There was some crazy, you know the concert going kind, see if you can spy any?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Fuji Rock: Camping

Although Naeba, being a ski resort, offers a number of accommodation options such as hotels and ryokan within walking distance of the festival site, the cost is very high and the competition for these is fierce - and they tend to book out very quickly. Some festival goers find accommodation in nearby ski resorts, taking advantage of the free shuttle bus that links the town of Yuzawa, which has the nearest train station and is between 40 minutes to an hour each way, to the festival site. Alternatively, there is a campsite on a golf course next to the festival site which costs 3000 yen per person for the whole weekend, complete with toilets, showers, an onsen, and food stalls. The campsite is hilly in many places and flat spots are taken quickly, causing many such as myself to spend more then a few sleepless hours trying to keep myself from sliding down the hill. The last image shows my humble weekend fortress, some people really went all-out: setting up multiple tents and connecting them with tarps, and setting up chairs, futons, tables, and stoves. Oh, and some choose to sleep in their cars in the parking lot, a good option if your auto has the space.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Fuji Rock Festival 2010

Last weekend I had the absolute pleasure of attending the Fuji Rock Festival, which is an annual rock festival held in Naeba Ski Resort, in Niigata Prefecture. The 3 day event, features a large number of bands composed of both Japanese and international musicians as well as some other types of entertainment. Fuji Rock is the largest outdoor music event in Japan and its name derives from the first event, held in 1997, at the foot of Mount Fuji. However, its current home in Naeba is nowhere near Mt Fuji. More photographs and insights to follow in the coming days. . .

Friday, August 6, 2010

Suma Night Life

The Suma beach party was 4,000+ people peacefully gathered to enjoy free live music and the smell and tastes of grilled food in the breeze flowing from the sea and hitting the mountains close behind. The beach is really the most relaxed public atmosphere around. Photograph was taken on my way home, atop a pedestrian walkway the leads from the beach toward the city.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Senbazuru 千羽鶴

Japanese legend advises that a person who folds 1,000 origami cranes will be granted his or her greatest wish. The origami crane has also become a symbol of peace because of this legend, and because of a young Japanese girl named Sadako Sasaki. Sadako was exposed to the radiation of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as an infant, and it took its inevitable toll on her health. Hearing this legend, she decided to fold one thousand origami cranes so that she could live. Later, realizing that she would not survive, she wished instead for world peace and an end to suffering. A group of one thousand paper cranes is called senbazuru, and they are also common sites at Buddhist temples - like these at Suma temple. The crane symbol also has a long history with Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. One legend tells of a high-ranking Taoist priest who, upon his death, turned into a crane.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Suma Temple 須磨寺

Suma temple is a Buddhist, Shingon sect, temple established in 886 and rests at the base of the Rokkō mountains not far from the sea coast. Its official name is Joyasan Sumadera, but local people affectionately call it "Mr. Suma's Daishi". Daishi is a Japanese honorific, usually granted posthumously, meaning "great master". Photograph is of many lanterns hanging from the ceiling of a small open-air shrine found atop the large graveyard.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Yes this is not Japanese, however Italian food is rather popular here and I have always intended to try a Affogato and finally did while at a fancy coffee shop in Suma. An affogato, literally meaning "drowned" in Italian, is a coffee-based beverage or dessert. It usually takes the form of a scoop of vanilla gelato or ice cream topped with a shot of hot espresso. If you like gelato and good rich espresso you really cannot go wrong here. I mixed mine to form a slush like consistency and the taste was very nice, how I always wanted coffee ice cream to taste; rich, slightly bitter, not too sweet, and smooth. Now that I have finally tried this simple but marvellous concoction I have to make up for last time by ordering it as much as possible.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pepsi NEX x ZOZOTOWN Be@rbrick

Back in May Pepsi NEX collaborated with Paramount and Be@rbrick to provide omake (bonus) cellphone straps for their rather unappetizing soda, and now Zozotown an online Japanese retailer has joined the party with 6 different designs of Be@rbrick 70%. The 6 collaborations are well know fashion brands in Japan: A Bathing Ape, Hysteric Glamour, Journal Standard, x-girl, SHIPS, and Tommy. I found a convenience store that was nice enough to just display open flats of the drink so folks could choose their toys without digging through the refrigerated displays. Now if I could only find a use for this soda, Coke makes a good marinade for chicken perhaps this would work? Or I could always use it to clean some coins. . .

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Escalator エスカレーター

Japan is known for proper etiquette but perhaps one area less noticed by visiting foreigners is escalator etiquette. In Japan, every time you ride an escalator, people who are just standing stay to one side, making way for those who may be in a hurry to pass. The Japanese create maximum pedestrian efficiency, in a densely populated landmass, by using the social pressure, enforced by a homogenous society, to maintain “wa” (harmony). Really, without "wa" I don't think this many people could live in such a small place without tearing each other apart. However, for some reason unbeknownst to me, in the Kanto region (i.e. Tokyo), everyone stands to the left while in the Kansai region (i.e Osaka), everyone stands to the right! Pictured is a very cool open-clockwork escalator in a building in Ōsaka.